Life keeps going at Holt’s place
Dick Hodgetts: Columnist
Growing up in the Keencheefoonee community in the 1940’s was a trip. W.W. West had eight youngsters on his cotton farm and they were an active bunch. With the kids from neighboring farms, plus those from Centennial Baptist Church, and the kids of tenant farmers; there were always enough kids to play any sport or game that someone dreamed up.
W.W. was blessed with six daughters and two sons. When he ventured into Madison on Saturday mornings, he was likely to run into his pal Roy Lambert. Roy would shout out half a block away: “W.W. how could anyone so ugly have six such beautiful daughters?” The success stories from these eight West kids could fill a book. Today we will tell just a little bit of the story of the charming and delightful Rena West Holt.
Not much traffic out on the dirt roads in the 1940’s. An exciting event was the daily arrival of the rural free delivery postman whom they could hear make his way from some distance. What would he bring today? The tension would mount as they saw his dust trail. Oh it’s the shipment of baby chicks for Rena’s 4–H Project–the ones she ordered from Sears Roebuck. Yep, that’s how it was done in 1946.
She attended elementary school in Rutledge, and later went to Morgan County High as a basketball player, cheerleader, an all round good student. She worked her way through Piedmont College--a good place to learn to become a teacher, which is exactly what she did. One day this well dressed young man named George Holt appears on campus, and Rena decides: “That is the guy for me.” As she says summarily: “It took him a spell to shed himself of that girl in south Georgia--but it was never in doubt.”
George Holt soon finds himself with a new bride, her remaining school debts, and a finance company job in South Georgia. Meanwhile, Rena becomes a teacher at the famous Glynn Academy which needed a gym teacher and a tennis coach. Rena has never played tennis in her life. But, with Rena-determination and enterprise, she finds a tennis racquet on Hwy 98 that had been run over a couple of times, learns the game and becomes the regional Coach of the Year. Eventually, she upgrades and gets her tennis racquets from saving S&H Green stamps. Even today she holds her own in ALTA & USTA competition. She is a ranked player among her age group and not adverse to switching around who plays number one, two, three or four on her team as they size up the competition. George is not the only one maneuvered about by Rena.
As George and Rena begin to think about putting down roots, they decide as do so many of us: you just can’t do better than Morgan County. They move out to the “West home place” where many of the family are still involved in the life of the community.
George is the finance officer for Trust Company bank here and the two of them become mainstays of the local Presbyterian Church. The years fly by.
Her brother, Bobby West, plants about 15 acres of sunflowers on a flat piece of land near the old farm tenant house. It’s a great place for his shooting buddies to pop off at some doves who nest in sunflowers. Rena sees it from another perspective: “let’s have a Festival of Sunflowers-and show everyone how life was in simpler times.” She organizes George, her son Wes, her brother Bobby and scores more of the West clan to hold a Sunflower Farm Festival in 2001. It draw about 700 people that first year, and costs George a bit less than her original college loans, but he was familiar with the routine by now.
This weekend, more than 100 years after the Wests arrive in Morgan County, several thousand visitors will come to the eighth Sunflower Farm Festival. It is bigger and more entertaining than ever before. Artists come from all over--food vendors like Big Kev in Rutledge do their BBQ magic; acres of sunflowers are available for cutting; the old tenant house is open and one of the West girls will show you around; the kids have pony rides and a petting zoo, there is a tractor parade, and free hay rides. All of it is an example of how much fun life was when we let our imaginations serve as the catalyst for entertainment.
Rena reminds all of you: “we have just had a perfect amount of rain, and the sunflowers are going to be at their best this year-don’t miss it.”
This year, as a special attraction, hummingbirds will be “banded” by the Hummers, an organization that promotes the study of Hummingbirds. It will be a special treat for kids and their parents and grand-parents.
And, if it rains on the Fourth and Fifth of July, or the economy falls flat again, and no one comes to the Sunflower Farm Festival: George will pay the debts. Not much has changed in this relationship in the last 50 years.
When you approach the entrance to the Sunflower Farm Festival, note that Bobby West has converted an old John Deere manure spreader into a planter and Rena has added a gorgeous arrangement of flowers. She will tell you with a twinkle: “this manure spreader is the only product that John Deere refused to stand behind.”
Visit George, Rena and Wes and most of the West clan at the eighth annual Sunflower Farm Festival, and see if you agree: life is a lot of fun when growing up in the country, whether it is 1940 or 2009.
The Sunflower Farm Festival is held at 1430 Durden Road outside Rutledge. Easy to find via I-20 Exit 105, and follow the signs. It is Saturday July 4th, and Sunday July 5th Hours are 9:00 to 5:00. The Morgan Rotary Club is working with the Holts to assist in this great community Festival.
Special thanks to: George Holt, Wes Holt, and Bobby West who assisted in the preparation of this story.